Brunswick / Mercury Marine Moving Propeller Alert patent issued
We followed that post up with a call for inventors and college project classes to consider trying design a free standing, energy harvesting, self powered version that did not require the use of the expensive underlying Smart Craft bus system.
Now, about two years later, Brunswick’s patent for the Moving Propeller Alert issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
U.S. Patent 8,803,711
System and Methods for Displaying Operational Characteristics of Marine Vessels.
Inventor: Steven J. Gonring.
Assignee: Brunswick Corporation.
Issued 12 August 2014.
The patent application was filed back on January 28, 2011. It is a continuation of an application filed 22 September 2010 (about 4 years ago) so it probably had some problems along the way.
The patent cites U.S. Patent 7,247,063 by Marc S.Lemchen that detects propeller rotation and/or CO2 presence and generated a warning signal with the intent to warn a swimmer in the proximity.
The basic premise of the invention is that a device a bit larger than a coaster that has a series of led lights in the form of a circle (a circular array of lights). The lights blink in a rotary sequence to suggest rotation when the propeller is rotating at low to moderate speeds.
Brunswick’s patent also cover the integration of display screen that could display a virtual rotating propeller.
Brunswick can dim the lights based on ambient conditions, and the device can also be used to represent the status of other boating operational systems (such as being in gear), users can select what to display, engine speed, direction of propeller rotation, etc.
We looked at the Public PAIR (Public Application Information Retrieval) system. The examiner argued that the teachings of Welch (U.S. Patent Application 2003/0231108 A1) combined with Quach (U.S. Patent Application 2006/0273891 A1) (the swirl pattern) could obviously be combined by one skilled in the art to result in this invention. Brunswick disagreed, but rewrote the disputed claim to more distinctly claim what they were bringing to the table, then challenged USPTO to meet the requirements set forth in a U.S. Supreme Court Teleflex patent case involving the same two cited patents.
Brunswick went on to state the genius of invention is often in combining things that look obvious in hindsight.
Brunswick was unable to sway the examiner, the claims in question were rejected. The remaining claims were amended to depend from an allowable claim, and the patent was issued.
Its final form only contains 2 independent claims, and a total of 9 claims (fewer that most inventors would desire).
Interestingly, the first independent claim includes, the circular pattern of motion is clockwise for clockwise rotation of the propeller and counter-clockwise for counter-clockwise rotation of the propeller. Those in the water should not really care which way it is rotating (forward or reverse, they just need to stay away from it). With left and right handed drives and left and right handed props, you may be able to get a propeller rotating in what looks like reverse (counter-clockwise) but have the drive going forward. As we read the patent, if you copy it and do not change direction of rotation of the lights based on direction of rotation of the propeller, you do not directly infringe on their patents. The courts may still find you guilty of getting too close to them, but not all of Brunswick’s claims will read on your device.
The same clockwise, counter-clockwise language is in the second independent claim as well.
Some would say that putting that much detail in the independent claims makes the patent of little value.
While we are thrilled to see Brunswick make some efforts in this area, we still encourage Brunswick, independent, inventors and college project classes to develop similar self powered, free standing components that are much more economical than these Smart Craft based components and can be more widely used. See the link above for additional information.